The constitution of the United States was a revolutionary document (both literally and figuratively), and aspects of it are well known throughout the world. Different lines are debated and argued over within the United States, and it is the subject of much study and controversy.
Constitutions from other countries vary from place to place — some similar in nature to the United States’, some quite different. Myanmar’s constitution would fall into the latter category.
Myanmar/Burma has been under international scrutiny after their actions regarding the Rohingya people. What they have claimed to be an offensive targeting combating extremist Muslim terrorists, has been documented by multiple aid and other organizations on the ground to be “textbook ethnic cleansing.” This has driven approximately 700,000 people across the border into Bangladesh into harsh conditions in refugee camps.
However, this was not the first offensive specifically targeting civilians that the Burmese government has been responsible for. They have attacked the Karen time and time again, most of whom are Christian, Buddhist or animist. They have been fighting the Shan and Kachin for a long time as well. All of these conflicts with ethnic minorities throughout the country certainly transcends a few acts of Muslim extremism, and has grown into the longest civil war in modern history.
Many believed that icon Aung San Suu Kyi would be the answer when she became the de facto leader of the country. However, under her leadership the military has still committed an increasing number of human rights abuses, and they are once again pushing against non-Muslim, non-Rohingya populations.
Whether or not they have been a disappointment, or if they seem like they have had their hands tied, it seems that politicians have been consistently unable to control the Burmese military. Anyone who has spent serious time in the country knows there is a distinct divide from the military and the politicians that have risen to office in a conventional, non-military capacity.
This is largely in part to the way their constitution was re-written, almost exactly ten years ago. It is the third constitution of the country, which has gone through several radical changes over the years. This military-oriented constitution gives the military a lot of autonomy and power over the civilian government, instead of the other way around.
For example, 25% of parliament seats are to be held by officers in the Burmese military, no matter what. That means if there are no acceptable candidates presented by the military, those seats will still be held by officers. They also hold one of the two vice president positions, as well as several prominent political positions that don’t necessarily need military input, or perhaps shouldn’t be involved — like the ministry of home affairs, which manages the entire police force, and is mandated to “to Preservation of community Peace and Tranquility.”
When they presented the constitution, there was an initial feeling of overwhelming approval — however, they held the referendum during a huge cyclone that was busy devastating the country. Despite the inability for many to have their voice be heard, the new constitution was passed anyway.
All of this culminates into what has been described as a functioning military junta. Since then, names like Aung San Suu Kyi have attempted to change the constitution, but to no avail. Some politicians have given local Burmese citizens hope for change, like the newly elected president Win Myint who recently released 8,500 political prisoners, but until the military portion of the government actually gives up its tight grip on power, it is unlikely that things will change.
Featured image: A Myanmar citizen living in Japan shouts a slogan along with others during a protest march against Myanmar’s military junta in downtown Tokyo, Sunday, Sept. 30, 2007. A senior Japanese official left for Myanmar on Sunday to convey international concerns over a deadly crackdown on anti-government protests, and to urge its leaders to take steps toward democracy. (AP Photo/Junji Kurokawa)